"Slave Traffick": The Informal Economy, the Law, and the Social Order of South Carolina Cotton Country, 1793-1860 Open Access

Bruchko, Erica (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/7h149q83k?locale=en


How could a slave who was property own property? This dissertation answers this question by examining the growth and operation of the informal economy of slavery in South Carolina cotton country from the advent of large-scale commercial cotton production to the Civil War. It explores the extent of slave economic independence and the changing relationship between masters, slaves, and the market. During the early nineteenth century, South Carolina cotton planters faced economic, political, and demographic crises. To overcome these challenges, they adopted new paternalistic management strategies that stressed order and control over slaves' domestic lives. The late-antebellum informal economy was a direct outgrowth of this emerging paternalistic ideology. By extending carefully managed economic privileges to slaves, cotton planters reformed a loosely organized system of domestic production and exchange into a tightly controlled planter-managed informal economy. Placing property in the hands of slaves, however, proved risky. While a properly organized informal economy reinforced the social order, uncontrolled economic independence had the opposite effect. The formation of an underground economy, fueled by theft and illicit trade between slaves and poor whites, threatened to undermine planters' paternalistic ideal. As a result, slaveholders responded in force, policing slave movements and disciplining white "negro traders."

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